I’m Dawn Cansfield and I’m a part-time PhD student in the Archaeology Department at the University of Winchester, Hampshire, UK, researching prehistoric burials (morbid, I know).
On this year’s Day of Archaeology I was involved in an open day at Brighton Museum. These regular drop-ins are held on the last Friday of each month in the Museum Lab, when the public are able to come and find out about the work on the archaeology collections that usually goes on behind the scenes. The Brighton and Hove Archaeology Society bring along educational displays, artefacts from their excavations including pottery, stone tools and animal bones, and work on post-excavation activities such as recording and drawing finds.
My involvement in these open days arose from a collaboration between Andy Maxted, the archaeology curator at the museum, Paola Ponce, osteoarchaeologist at Archaeology South-East, and myself. We were fortunate to be awarded the inaugural Collections Study Award by the Prehistoric Society which is funding us to catalogue and assess the museum’s collection of prehistoric human remains. At the monthly drop-in days I work on a particular skeleton (as I do on my usual days at the museum), lay it out in anatomical order, assess and record it and discuss the work with visitors.
Today I laid out a skeleton from the collection that we have very limited information about but hopefully we can find out more through further research, something we are doing as part of the project. The human remains in the collection are of Brighton’s prehistoric ancestors and they vary from a good number of fairly complete skeletons to some which comprise just a few bones. Often the museum record includes details of where and how the skeletons were found and in some cases there are newspaper cuttings dating back to the 1920s and ’30s; occasionally there are even written reports. Ultimately all these individuals will be uniformly assessed and recorded with digitised summary reports uploaded to the museum database for future researchers to refer to.
We had a lot of visitors today and I spent pretty much the whole day talking with people about archaeology generally and the study of human remains in particular. This was no hardship for me! It was great chatting to people, adults and children alike, from all around the world, about things like how you can work out the age and sex of a skeleton, which bones are which, the timeline for prehistoric Brighton and how we are using our research to try and tell these people’s stories. All this chatting did, however, mean that I didn’t get very far with my actual recording on this occasion (which is not unusual at these events) but that’s fine because I can finish it at my next visit. Today was all about sharing the wonders of archaeology!